Time for Backlund to get mental

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Mikael Backlund has plenty to improve upon to become a bona fide NHLer.

The touted Calgary Flames prospect has to develop his offensive skills and improve defensively, among raising other aspects of his game.

He knows it, too.

However, Backlund is developing another part of his puck sense in anticipation of a move to the North American pro ranks. On top of spending the off-season with a personal trainer -- he arrived at camp at 198 lb., down about 10 lb. from where he was at one point -- Backlund has been working with a sports psychologist to improve his game between the ears.

"Things I need to improve and staying positive," said Backlund, when asked about the decision to see a sports psychologist. "When I came to Kelowna, I started to really pick up the mental stuff and started to read a mental toughness book. It's something I needed to improve on."

Backlund has been pouring through Hockey Tough by Saul Miller. He realized he needed to become mentally stronger after last season.

After enjoying his first NHL training camp in Calgary, he returned home to Sweden with high hopes of being a front-line player for Vasteras.

Instead, he was placed in a support role and went through a downward cycle. He coped poorly with the disappointment, and it reflected in his play.

After the World Junior tournament, Backlund joined the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, and the taste of playing full-time on this side of the Atlantic Ocean -- his run with the Rockets included a league title and trip to the Memorial Cup -- opened his eyes.

"You have to be really strong mentally to play at this level. It's a lot of games. I can't have ups-and-downs like I have past years," said the 20-year-old, who was the Flames' first-round pick (24th overall) in 2007.

"It's a lot mentally, and it's what I've been working on -- to be consistent. To prepare every game, it's all mental, and it's something I had to improve."

It's likely Backlund, who skated on a line yesterday with star forwards Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen, will start the season in Abbotsford, but the possibility exists he'll be on the Flames roster.

"It's up to me to play at a top level, and then it's the coach's decision," Backlund said. "But I feel I have a good chance to be here."


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